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It's a Privilege Just to Be Here

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I loved It's a Privilege Just to be Here by Emma Sasaki

This book is told from the perspective of Aki, a teacher at a (fictional) prestigious Quaker private prep school in DC, known for having alumni that include the president's children. Aki's daughter Meg attends the school and is a junior, and while both Aki and Meg experience microaggressions and prejudice on a regular basis at the school, Aki firmly believes that by getting Meg to graduate from this prestigious school she is helping set her on the right path for college and beyond. When Meg is caught up in a scandal related to racism and graffiti at the school, and Aki is thrust by the school's admin into a made-up smoke screen of a DEI position, this goal of getting Meg to graduation seems more and more complicated.

Filled with unique or diverse perspectives, such as the Quaker school, the experiences of Japanese-American women, and the elite private school students and parents, this book is super interesting! I loved the weaving in of the social media posts and chat forum quotes as it really gave you the feeling of being part of this school community. I work in a higher income community and sometimes I see these attempts to use privilege and power in negative ways, so I could relate to some of what was going on in the story. I also could relate to Aki's constant balancing act and how much gets thrown on her by admin and parents! Teachers or anyone familiar with private or elite schools will see some connections for sure. This book is a really great opportunity to consider and reflect on racist assumptions, microaggressions and the experiences of minorities in prestigious schools. It also gives some great insight into what happens when organizations pretend to address racism and prejudice but don't actually put the work in to support the diverse members of the workplace or community.

Thanks so much to netgalley and the publisher @crookedlanebooks alcovepress for giving me the chance to read and review this awesome book. It's pubdate is June (I believe) so definitely get this on the preorder now!

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Ohhhh this book made me SO MAD. But like… that was the point. So its infuriating nature isn’t necessarily a point against it, so much as a point that something was working.

The book follows Japanese American Aki Hayashi-Brown as she teaches at an incredibly stuffy, predominantly white private school in Washington, DC, while also trying to parent her biracial daughter, Meg, in the wake of a graffitied hate crime on campus. Aki gets thrust into a performative role as equity director as her daughter rails against the institution on the side of social justice, and what comes out of this conflict is a conversation about race relations, normalized white supremacy and oppression, what we are willing to suffer as minorities in the name of assimilation, and when it is time to speak out.

As someone deeply embroiled in the social justice activism movement within higher education as a part of my day job on a college campus, this book was extremely on point to things I have experienced firsthand. That also meant I found myself marginally triggered throughout this entire book, as I just got so infuriated with the host of characters in the book that felt utterly soulless and bigoted. But they weren’t far from the reality of many privileged Americans, and that, again, is the point.

I will admit, I think the needle could’ve been pushed further with this novel. It works extremely well as an introduction to those who may not understand how racism and sexism both run rampant within education spaces, but as someone who knows and has experienced a lot of this, I was hoping for more than just “Well, the protagonist realizes racism is bad and she should stand up and say it is bad,” which is sort of how it felt by the end of the book. I think Aki and Meg are meant to show the generational divide between the older generation that was taught to absorb racism in silence, and the younger generation willing to fight loudly for equality, but I was still a bit irked in places where I felt that more could have been infused into the novel to make greater impact on the subject matter.

Also, as a small note—I read an ARC of the book, and thus understand there will be another round of revisions, but I did notice there were upwards of 10-15 instances in which information was repeated multiple times, whether about character backgrounds or about feelings/thoughts held by Aki. This repetition broke up the narrative and made the book structurally feel like it hadn’t been edited at all, and occasionally took me out of the story. I am hoping these issues will be resolved by the book’s publication.

Overall, this book was a good fictionalized expose on the struggles of minorities in educational environments normed to privilege white folks. I think more could have been done to make a statement, and the story could benefit from a heavy edit, but I enjoyed reading it on the whole. 3.75⭐, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads

*Thank you again to NetGalley and the publishers for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.*

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J’ai lu It’s a Privilege Just to Be Here début janvier, mais j’ai encore du mal à rédiger mes articles. Je vais essayer de rassembler les souvenirs qu’il me reste pour écrire quelque chose.
Aki Hiyashi-Brown enseigne dans un lycée prestigieux de Washington. Elle considère que c’est une chance, d’autant que sa fille Meg peut fréquenter l’établissement dont elle n’aurait jamais pu payer les frais de scolarité. Évidemment, ce privilège a un prix : Aki doit accepter toutes les tâches supplémentaires qu’on lui assigne et servir de représentante de/incarner la diversité à Wesley Friends School. Bon, elle n’est pas la seule puisque le vice-principal est noir, mais il a d’autres chats à fouetter. Et puis, comme Aki ne dit jamais rien. Et c’est ce que sa fille ne supporte pas. Elle méprise totalement sa mère, l’insulte régulièrement. Une vraie rebelle, quoi ! Quand un élève inscrit Make Wesley White Again sur les murs de l’école, Aki se retrouve prise entre l’administration qui aurait aimé étouffer l’affaire (et prend les mesures habituelles, mais totalement inutiles) et le groupe d’élèves surtout issus des minorités qui exige une enquête et des sanctions.
Je peux comprendre qu’Aki ait peur pour son poste et qu’elle souhaite que sa fille reste dans cette école prestigieuse. Mais comme souvent dans ce type de conflit, la grosse ficelle de l’absence de communication est un peu trop utilisée : Meg s’énerve dès que sa mère lui parle ; Meg se renferme sur elle-même ou s’enferme dans sa chambre quand sa mère essaie de lui parler ; Meg ne raconte rien à sa mère, mais se fâche quand sa mère ne sait rien de sa vie ; Aki imagine toujours le pire dès qu’il s’agit de sa fille, se pose systématiquement les mauvaises questions, se réveille trois chapitres trop tard et s’interroge sur la culpabilité de sa fille. J’imagine que ce n’est pas facile d’élever un enfant, mais d’être à ce point à côté de la plaque… Inutile de dire que le mari d’Aki (qui n’est pas le père de Meg) s’entend à merveille avec sa belle-fille, sait toujours exactement ce qu’il faut dire et faire, et surtout ne comprend pas l’attitude de sa femme. Et j’oubliais la mère d’Aki, qui était hyper stricte avec sa fille, mais est maintenant une grand-mère qui vit avec son temps. Yeah, right!
Malgré ces nombreuses critiques, le livre m’a plutôt plu. Pas révolutionnaire, un peu exagéré parfois, quelques longueurs, surtout avec les questionnements incessants d’Aki. Et puis, on a bien compris qu’il s’agissait d’une école huppée. Était-ce bien utile de développer le pedigree des parents la première fois que l’on parle d’eux ? C’était assez drôle, même si cela frisait la caricature. Ça correspond bien à l’image que j’ai de ce type d’école ; en tout cas, celle qu’en donnent tous les films et feuilletons

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I loved the premise and was excited to read the book. I found parts of it to be a bit confusing, especially towards the end. The pacing was a bit slow at times and felt like the book could have used a bit more editing. Overall, I enjoyed the story and writing.

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I enjoyed the premise of a teacher working in a fancy school but the book didn't feel finished to me, even for an ARC. There were a few threads I felt started and then never went anywhere. I thought having her daughter attend the school was a good idea but expected it to be explored a little more fully than it was. It wasn't a bad book, it just felt like a rough draft to me.

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It's a Privilege Just to Be Here is an incredible debut by Emma Sasaki—set against Washington D.C., her debut novel uncovers the racism that live within the wealthy, elite world of private schools and what one has to give up in order to fit in.

I really appreciated Sasaki's ability to use our main character, Aki, and her daughter as way to really dig deep into the differences between the generations' handling of racism — both overt and more subtle. I also appreciated the way in which key plot points were reveled; hinted at and and foreshadowed, every piece carefully coming together. While I, myself, was frustrated with the some of the decisions and choices Aki made, it was written in a way where the reader was still able to understand /why/ those decisions were made, even if we disagree or think we'd handle something differently.

I do think the pacing was a bit off  — there were certain parts where I was speeding through the book, but other parts where I really was pushing myself to keep going. I also found the ending rushed; there was a lot to wrap up and I just feel like there could have been a bit of expansion.

Overall, I did really enjoy It's a Privilege Just to Be Here and the longer conversation of racism, intersectionality, and how to fight between what you believe in.

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for review from Netgalley. Thank you to Alcove Press.

Unfortunately, I was unable to finish this book. I got almost 60 pages in, and I had a lot of difficulty. I understand ARC’s are not finished copies. They’re not polished, perfect, and ready to go. However, this felt like a first draft. There were a lot of basic errors – punctuation, grammar, tense – but also more serious construction issues. It was hard to follow what was happening, and this was right from the opening scene. The narrator, Aki, jumps between current action and dialogue, her own thoughts, something that happened in the past, the history of the person she’s talking to, and other things.

The premise of the book is interesting: an Asian teacher is working at a mostly white, rich, privileged prep school when racist graffiti appears. How will the school, students, and faculty respond to this? I love prep school and boarding school stories, so I was excited for this. What’s more, Aki’s daughter, Meg, attends the school since her mother is a teacher there, so that is an interesting dynamic as well.

However, I didn’t expect this to be comedic, and the presentation of many characters and events seem to lean towards humor. I don’t know if that was intentional or, frankly, bad writing due to being an underdeveloped story. I feel like this book just was not ready to be published. Highly disappointed.

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Who doesn't love a snarky book about a private rich kids school? It's like peering into the lives of the other. But Sasaki brings more to the table than just that through her diverse characters and their complex feelings. For those who enjoy Japanese culture, Sasaki gives an ample dose of it through Aki and her family. It also exposes the generational divide in a few different families and there is broad representation across the school faculty, parents and students. She leaves few issues untouched and does it with a fair amount of humor and humility.
At the beginning I wondered how stereotypical the characters would turn out to be and I had some hesitation, but with the whodunnit element the book is impossible to put down and is a satisfying romp. Sasaki managed to seriously address important issues and poke fun at the process at the same time. Kudos to her for that.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. The title is perfection!

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"It's a Privilege Just to Be Here" offers a nuanced exploration of racial dynamics and privilege in the academic world. The narrative, while straightforward, carefully unveils a story that touches on racial microaggressions and the growing desensitization to racial antagonism. It manages to immaculately detail instances of the cynicism of white privilege. One of the standout features of this novel is the meticulous portrayal of the default yet necessary chaos before any social reformation. While the pacing may be deemed tedious initially, the story gradually gains momentum, delving into the cutthroat tension of societal complexities. "It's a Privilege Just to Be Here" is brilliantly written.

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5/5 stars amazing! From the first page I was so invested in this book. The plot and the characters were so well thought out and developed. I found myself rooting for Aki and Meg and so enraged at Claire and the other parents at Wesley. This book is so important because racism is still such an issue everyday. This isn’t some fantasy book that we know isn’t real. No, these are issues that are happening all the time and so many people sweep this under the rug. Ugh I will recommend this book to everyone I know. This was an amazing start to my reads this year.

Thank you so much NetGalley and Alcove Press for giving me the opportunity to read/review this book!

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I really enjoyed reading this book, it had everything that I was hoping for from the description. I thought Meg was a unique character and enjoyed the daughter-mother relationship with her mother Aki. It had a great story to it and worked with what I wanted. Emma Sasaki does a great job writing this.

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Aki Hayashi-Brown is a teacher at a very fancy school, Wesley in Washington DC. Mainly to get her 17 y old daughter Meg (Megumi) to attend there for a reduced rate. The school is essentially a prep school for the Ivys and attended by mostly kids with filthy rich parents and thus students devoid of any notion of injustice or lack of something.
At the start, the school gets vandalized with a racist slogan sprayed on the front of the school.
It unleashes a wave of events (which I will not spoil).
Aki is a very reserved Japanese-American gen X teacher, who is used and trotted out as an exemplary minority.
It’s very interesting to read the differences in thoughts and reactions of Meg and her mom. As Aki has always been taught to keep her head down, but Meg is ready to fight any injustice.
Each chapter starts with an anonymous post by a parent on The posts are infuriating at times.
It kind of is mirrored in the insta account POC@Wesley. Being able to share stuff anonymously is not always good, but sometimes necessary. Sometimes its just to hide ones true nature.
The book deals with very difficult parents and their spoilt kids and racism on all levels.
It will make your blood boil. The book is excellent. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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I felt like I was the fictional private school among these well-developed characters! It is a great story and an in-depth look at the wealthy and academic world. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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This is an interesting book which somehow manages to take a deeply sad subject - the persistent and visceral nature of racial inequality in America - and delivers a story that combines its protagonists' attitudes of passion, resignation and rage, while mining an unexpected vein of humour in the telling of it.

The daughter of Asian immigrants herself, Aki has chosen to work at an elite prep school in order to ensure that her daughter Meg can attend the school and receive all the benefits such an education can offer. Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - things don't quite go according to plan.

When racist graffiti appears at the school there is a flurry of activity to mask the uglines of what has happened. While Aki knows what is expected of her as part of the "model minority", she struggles to find her feet as head of the toothless anti-racism task force amidst the awareness that hers is one of the very few POC faces among the teaching staff.

Meanwhile, Meg and her classmates - raised in the era of the internet - are less inclined to turn the other cheek. So, inevitably, sparks fly.

It does take time to get past all the information provided in the first part of the book, and reach the meat of the story. But the reader is then rewarded with an emphatic and long-overdue takedown of the hypocrisy and hubris of the prep school system. All in all, this is a debut novel worth checking out.

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Thank you to the Publisher for my arc!

While the premise is exactly up my alley, i just kept waiting for the story to start due to the massive amounts of info dumping you get in the first couple of chapters and by the time the story did finally start to pick up. I just ended up losing interest.

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I am stunned that this is a debut novel! So well written in terms of plot, description and characters. As someone who works at a school that is quite similar, I can tell you everything that happened rang all-too-tru.

In It's a Privilege we meet veteran teacher Aki, a daughter of Japanese immigrants who works at a very prestigious prep school in DC to ensure that her daughter has access to the best education she can provide.
Unfortunately, like most prep schools, the parents are over the top and the wealthiest parents tend to behave the most badly. When Aki's daughter is involved in a series of events that pull back the cheery facade of the school to reveal the institutional racism beneath, Aki's first inclination is to council her to stay silent. Meg is part of the new generation however and only makes her voice louder.

When the school admin put Aki in charge of the Racial Take Force, she feels more than ever that she is unable to speak up. As the rumors fly and social media speculates, Aki is forced closer and closer to taking a stand. It goes against her upbringing and would put the welfare of her child and her own employment at risk. Does she have the nerve?

Just loved it! It was like being at work with just a few more funnier friends! If you like the books that poke fun at bureaucracy, enjoy stories that shed light on institutional racism or just love a prep school romp - this book is for you! Excellent job Emma Sasaki, can't wait to see what you write next!
#alcovepress #itsaprivilegejusttobehere #emmasasaki

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Thank you NetGalley and Alcove Press for the copy of It’s A Privilege Just To Be Here, a great debut by Emma Sasaki. I was immersed in the story from the start and I loved the social media post snippets. Aki was a wonderful main character and it made me feel less alone to see echoes of my own upbringing in hers.Seeing how Aki handles her family, friends, and job is so realistic a few times I felt like I was part of the story. This is a beautiful story of relationships and personal growth, and the response to racial inequality. Don’t miss this book! 4.5 stars rounded up to 5.

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